Harner replaces Lisa Andrejko, who resigned in January from the district, which has about 5,500 students in nine schools. He will be paid a prorated salary of $168,000 until the job ends in June.
Harner had been nominated to the state post in May but was asked to resign after officials learned of a complaint lodged against him during his tenure at the Cumberland Valley School District, just outside Harrisburg, where he worked for five years.
Sources told The Inquirer that the matter involved an e-mail Harner sent to a male administrator, allegedly asking him how he looked in a Speedo bathing suit when on vacation.
At the time the allegation surfaced, Harner said that any complaints during his tenure "were fully investigated and no matter was ever determined to be of merit or legal consequence." A Cumberland Valley statement also said that "at no time was Dr. Harner found to have violated any law, regulation, or district policy."
In an interview Tuesday, the 57-year-old retired Army officer turned educator declined to discuss the complaint, but said he left Cumberland Valley because he was recruited by another school district last spring, then was asked by Gov. Corbett to take the state job.
"I had been given the opportunity to change the world for 1.8 million students in Pennsylvania, and it was an honor," he said.
He said that the Cumberland Valley board gave him a "strong recommendation" and that many of his detractors in Quakertown have apologized.
Their main objection, he said, was that he was hired just two weeks after Andrejko's retirement was announced.
Strunk said three candidates were interviewed and the process seemed rushed, with no one getting a second interview. He said feedback on Harner had been "very good."
Joyce King, who also voted against Harner, said she preferred another candidate who was "well known in the area" and was "a calming factor."
Robert Leight, a former member of Quakertown's board for 27 years, said he initially opposed the appointment but has changed his mind.
"I'm very impressed by his attitude and his capacity to pick up on what the concerns are in the community," he said.
Harner is a West Point graduate who grew up in Cheltenham and was in the military for 20 years before retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He worked as superintendent in Greenville County, S.C., from 2000 to 2004, resigning before his contract expired after a controversy over his plan to raise money to start a lacrosse program by selling trees from lots being cleared for district construction projects.
He went to a district in Gainesville, Ga., then to Philadelphia, where he was a special assistant to former chief executive Paul Vallas and later a regional superintendent.
Now, he said, he would like to lead Quakertown permanently after his current contract expires.
"I've got a lot of years left in me, and this is what I like to do," he said.