Virginia Republican candidate for governor Wyatt B. Durrette accused his Democratic opponent today of switching his position on the issue of merit pay for teachers, an issue that has been one of the major differences between them.
But a spokeswoman for Democrat Gerald L. Baliles countered that Durrette "appears to be confused about what merit pay is" and said Baliles still opposes it.
Durrette charged today that Baliles had first opposed, but now was supporting, a form of merit pay after repeatedly attacking the Republicans over the issue. "I was incredulous," Durrette said.
Baliles on Thursday issued a 20-point plan for education in which he said he would support "one-time" bonuses of up to $1,000 for about 500 teachers in the state "for exceptional service." The Democrat said he would continue his opposition to Durrette's call to revise state salary structures to include merit pay.
The Democratic nominee also said he would not support that bonus plan until the state increases teachers' salaries to the national average, a proposal Durrette opposes.
Durrette has said he wants to establish some type of merit plan for teachers, but said again today that he does not have a specific plan in mind.
The Virginia Education Association, which represents many of the state's 55,000 teachers and has endorsed Baliles, has opposed merit pay plans. The association contends merit plans are administratively complex and hurt morale.
Baliles has said he has never seen a merit plan that could be fairly administered.
The Baliles bonus proposal is "not what I'd call a merit pay plan," said Richard Pulley, lobbyist for the education association. "You have to stretch the point to call this something other than what it is . . . a bonus . . . . It doesn't lessen our support for Jerry Baliles and may enhance it."
Durrette said, however, "It's clear, now more than ever, that Gerald Baliles says whatever the audience he's trying to reach wants to hear."
Durrette said Baliles last spring "agreed with the education association's opposition to merit pay in order to win the Democratic nomination . . . . Now, a few days before the election, when he's trying to reach Virginia voters in general, he says he favors some form of merit pay."
Durrette, who has been trailing in the polls, suggested Baliles' campaign "is in trouble and his polls must have told him that the majority of Virginians want merit pay for teachers who deserve it."
Republican National Committee Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf also joined Durrette at the news conference to dispel what he said were rumors that the RNC is not wholeheartedly supporting Durrette.
Fahrenkopf said the RNC will have spent about $500,000 plus the costs of several full-time staffers dispatched to the Durrette campaign before the Nov. 5 election.
Baliles, who was endorsed today by the Journal newspapers in Northern Virginia, campaigned in Norfolk and Chesapeake with Democratic Gov. Charles S. Robb. The Democratic nominee also picked up the endorsement of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. Both newspapers said he is best qualified to carry on the programs of Robb's administration.