The Vancouver Elementary School Teachers' Association (VESTA) is considering which school trustee candidates and political parties it will endorse as municipal election campaigns heat up.
In the 2008 school board race, the association backed the joint COPE/Vision slate--seven of nine candidates who ran under those parties were elected. VESTA also published a highly critical view of the NPA's educational record in its November 2008 VESTA News. "Unfortunately, the current NPA-majority board elected in 2005 refuses to speak up on the underfunding issues, it hasn't followed through on seismic upgrading timeline, it hasn't fought the BC Liberal agenda, it has cut non-enrolling positions unnecessarily while at the same time creating more management positions, it has approved more funding for BCeSIS [student information system], it has proceeded with a faulty process to close schools, and has back-pedaled on the previous board's anti-FSA position," it stated.
VESTA president Chris Harris told the Courier this week that the association donated about $55,000 in the last municipal vote. It spends money on its own campaigns and it donates to political parties it endorses. Harris said the organization hasn't decided which trustee candidates to endorse in the 2011 race, but it's preparing a questionnaire for them to answer. He said results will be posted on the VESTA website. "It was just this last weekend that COPE voted on who their candidates would be," Harris explained in an email. "As per our policy, VESTA has a fund to spend on municipal elections and we will follow all the legislative requirements in disclosing how that money is spent."
In past years, VESTA also endorsed Andrea Reimer when she ran for school board under the Green Party, but Harris can't recall any other candidates from parties other than COPE or Vision, including independents, that the organization has endorsed in recent history.
Longtime NPA trustee Ken Denike doesn't expect a VESTA endorsement this election either.
"I think it's totally inappropriate. Their endorsement, in effect, indicates the people they're not endorsing--that they're not supportive of whatever they're doing," he said. "The difficulty there is it puts a wedge between trustees in terms of dealing with things. It also creates a very serious conflict of interest. They're supporting some [people] they're being supported by and that often goes with financial [support]--in Vancouver it certainly does, and generally you're not supposed to be aware of who is financially supporting you."
Denike also argues the charges VESTA levelled in its 2008 news letter "could obviously be contested, but they don't give the opportunity do so." He said the NPA will respond to VESTA this campaign. "We're going to counter. The time, we'll counter."