Mayor Gregor Robertson and rival Kirk LaPointe are pumping up a debate over corporate funding in Vancouver classrooms with just over a week to go in the civic election campaign.

The cash-strapped Vancouver School Board made headlines earlier this year for turning down nearly a half-million dollars from Chevron, despite facing a whopping $20-million funding shortfall next year.

The gasoline giant approached the school board to strike up a formal partnership that would have seen $1 donated to classrooms when consumers bought 30 or more litres of gas at local Chevron stations, up to a total of $475,000.

But the VSB declined the offer, citing a strict, nine-year-old policy that prohibits the district from entering into partnerships with corporations.

“[Supt. of schools Steve Cardwell] determined that it wasn’t a good fit for Vancouver, particularly with regard to the tie-in of marketing of gasoline sales,” said VSB Chair Patti Bacchus.

That’s in contrast to school districts including Surrey, White Rock, Burnaby and Coquitlam, which have all accepted funding support from Chevron through the “Fuel Your School” program.

Bacchus admits Vancouver’s policy is “much more extensive” than most school districts, but that’s because corporate presence in schools has long been a hot-button issue for the region.

“We have a lot of very engaged parents who feel very strongly, and that became clear when we had the policy discussion several years ago,” she said.

She said the partnership also conflicted with the VSB's goal of becoming the greenest school district in North America.

The VSB’s policy on accepting corporate money has now become a focus of the upcoming Nov. 15 civic election, with the leaders of Vision Vancouver and the Non-Partisan Association trading barbs over the issue on Wednesday.

Vision Vancouver incumbent mayor Gregor Robertson cited promotional photos released by Chevron featuring students wearing T-shirts with the company’s logo on them as an example of corporate influence on children.

“That’s why the school board is very focused on advocating for public dollars into education and keeping our schools open, and keeping the pressure on the B.C. government to fund our schools,” Robertson told CTV News.

“There’s definitely a deeper corporate agenda. The connection with their tacit support of the Kinder Morgan pipeline and more oil tankers in our harbor, there might be a connection there, and we might be seeing that influence of big oil on the NPA, and that is a very odd situation in Vancouver.”

NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe has slammed Vision for not accepting the money, and said if in power, his party would carefully examine proposed partnerships like Chevron’s to ensure no strings were attached. If that were the case, the NPA would have accepted the money.

“I believe so, it offered our schools nearly half-a-million in equipment that they now don't have,” he said. “Whether we like to admit it or not our schools are underfunded, so we have to look for alternative sources of revenue.”

LaPointe said the city should not preclude particular companies from donating money to underfunded schools because of ideological differences, granted those companies don’t bring advertising or branding into classrooms.

Not to mention, he said, the VSB currently accepts donations from companies like Telus, Best Buy and Future Shop.

“I don’t think [Chevron’s proposal] violated their policy on corporate donations. They have lots of corporate funds in the classes right now,” said LaPointe. “We can talk about the need for the province to fund our schools better, and I understand that, I would push for that of course, but while we’re talking about this the students aren’t getting the equipment they need and they’re not learning in the way they need to.”

According to Chevron, its “Fuel Your Schools” campaign funnels money from gasoline promotions into classroom projects involving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Surrey schools received $200,000 from the initiative last year and the money came with no strings, according to district spokesman Doug Strachan.

“There was none. Other than they wanted to support STEM projects,” he said. “From all accounts, it has been well received.”

With a report from CTV Vancouver's Mi-Jung Lee.