Third Education Secretary in Four Months Takes Over in Pennsylvania

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 26, 2013 2 min read
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Acting Pennsylvania Secretary of Education William Harner has abruptly stepped down from his post after being asked to do so by Gov. Tom Corbett. The news comes just a few months after Harner took over from former secretary Ron Tomalis, who was moved by Corbett to a position overseeing higher education in his cabinet.

Harner’s removal was due to a “personnel” matter, not anything to do with education policy, according to an Associated Press report, which quotes Corbett’s spokeswoman Lynn Lawson. UPDATE: According to a subsequent Philadelphia Inquirer report relying on anonymous sources, a complaint was filed by an administrator against Harner in the Pennsylvania district where he used to work, Cumberland Valley, that Harner allegedly asked the administrator how he looked in a Speedo swimsuit.

He took over for Tomalis in May as acting secretary but had not been confirmed by state lawmakers after officially being nominated by Corbett, a Republican. He had previously served as a superintendent in a Pennsylvania district. Jan Murphy of the Penn Live news site reported that a background check during the nomination process led Corbett’s administration to pull Harner’s nomination.

His replacement as acting secretary is Carolyn Dumaresq, a holdover from the administration of Corbett’s predecessor, Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat. She has been serving as executive deputy secretary in the Pennsylvania department. Perhaps unusual for a Republican governor’s appointee, she has a union background—in fact, one of her previous jobs was executive director of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union and National Education Association affiliate. She’s also worked as a local superintendent in the state and has been a college professor.

When Corbett’s administration recently faced off with some Philadelphia public school advocates over state funds earmarked for the district on condition of certain collective bargaining changes, it was Charles Zogby, the Secretary of Budget for Corbett, and not Harner, who participated in the war of words in the media. (Zogby served as Pennsylvania’s education secretary roughly a dozen years ago.) Perhaps that signals Zogby’s big influence in the state education department, regardless of who holds the position of education secretary. Zogby has also worked as an executive at K12 Inc., an online learning company.

In addition to the Philadelphia school funding spat, resolved at least to the point where schools could open on time, Pennsylvania is also the scene of growing political resistance to the Common Core State Standards from both Democrats and Republicans in the state. And the founder of Pennsylvania’s largest cyber charter school was recently charged with stealing about $8 million from the school. Clearly, whoever is overseeing K-12 education in the state has plenty of high-profile issues to occupy their time.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.