HARRISBURG - A central Pennsylvania school superintendent who worked briefly as a Philadelphia School District administrator has emerged as the favorite to succeed Gov. Corbett's outgoing education secretary.

Administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said William Harner, superintendent of the Cumberland Valley School District just outside Harrisburg, is the front-runner to replace Ron Tomalis, who has run the Education Department since Corbett took office in 2011.

Harner, 56, a retired Army officer turned educator, who worked for onetime Philadelphia schools chief executive Paul Vallas, did not respond to a request for an interview. Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley could not be reached for comment.

The Inquirer reported last week that Tomalis had begun looking for another job and did not intend to stay in his $149,804 post past the summer. Among the reasons for his planned departure: behind-the-scenes tension between him and some members of the governor's inner circle.

Harner, who grew up in Cheltenham, has held the top job in the Cumberland Valley district, one of the Harrisburg area's largest, since 2008. His contract is to expire next month.

He has an extensive background in public school administration, and his career has had its share of controversy.

Harner ran the Greenville County, S.C., school system from 2000 until 2004, when he resigned before his contract expired. According to newspaper accounts at the time, he was criticized by school board members and others for a controversial timber sale, in which he raised money to start a lacrosse program by selling trees from lots being cleared for district construction projects. He also clashed with parents over changes in school schedules.

He was credited with a number of successes in the South Carolina district, including raising students' test scores.

Harner went on to the Gainesville, Ga., school district, and then to Philadelphia, where he was a special assistant to Vallas and later a regional superintendent.

In 2007, the Toledo, Ohio, school board chose Harner to lead the district. The Toledo Blade reported that he withdrew from contract talks after some board members objected to his proposal to live outside the district and send his daughter to private school. The newspaper said e-mails showed Harner's attorney had asked about whether the district would pay the daughter's tuition. Harner said he had never wanted the district to pay her tuition.

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