Group claiming to represent Virginia Beach teachers causes election controversy

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A newly-formed group claiming to represent teachers in Virginia Beach caused controversy Tuesday after campaign materials were found hanging in city polling locations.

The group is called the Virginia Beach Teachers’ Association. Its campaign materials feature an owl wearing glasses and a graduation cap and says, “Virginia Beach Teachers’ Association Wants You to Make the Wise Choice.” The campaign material lists several candidates endorsed by the association, including Virginia Beach School Board candidate Robert Dean.

The VBTA was registered with the Virginia State Corporation Commission in August 2019 by Laura Hughes. In a phone call with 10 On Your Side, Dean confirmed that Hughes is a current Virginia Beach School Board member and that she created the VBTA as a “lobbying group … established to represent teachers.”

Dean said that the group is a legal entity, but declined to comment further. Hughes did not respond to multiple phone calls for comment by 10 On Your Side.

Other candidates were also listed on the VBTA flyer: Leigh Henderson for treasurer, Michael Berlucchi for City Council, Tina Sinnen for clerk of court, Bill DeSteph, Jen Kiggans and John Cosgrove for Virginia Senate, Jason Miyares, Barry Knight, Shannon Kane, Rocky Holcomb, Chris Stolle, and Glenn Davis for Virginia House of Delegates, and Leslie Jones for soil and water conservation board.

The SCC filing was the only trace of the VBTA that 10 On Your Side could find online. The group does not have a website or social media presence.

Kelly Walker, who’s been a member of the Virginia Beach Education Association for 25 years and its president for four years, said she’d never heard of the VBTA until she found its campaign materials posted in a polling location around midnight on Tuesday.

Walker said she believes that Hughes founded the VBTA to “discredit” the VBEA, which was established more than 60 years ago. Members of the VBEA must be Virginia Beach City Public Schools employees, and the association includes teachers, bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

“I’m not sure who or what this association is about,” Walker said. “It’s not registered through Virginia Beach City Public Schools. It’s not vetted through Virginia Beach City Public Schools. And to my knowledge, nor will they be. They’re not an official employee association.”

Walker said the VBTA campaign materials are a means to “manipulate the voters” and “siphon votes away” from candidates endorsed by the VBEA, including Virginia Beach School Board candidate Joel McDonald.

“I think it’s misleading that they are saying that they are a teacher association when there’s no record, there’s no membership list, there’s not even a website,” Walker said. “There’s no record that they’re legitimate in any way, shape, or form.”

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