BENTON HARBOR — Benton Harbor teachers received an email Thursday from the teachers union president, claiming that school officials can’t guarantee that the district will be able to pay teacher salaries next school year, The Herald-Palladium has learned.

The email included links to several local school job sites.

When contacted by phone Friday, school board President Stephen Mitchell said teachers will be paid.

“Our finances are solid for at least two years,” he said. “We’re working with the state to do some creative financing after that.”

Mitchell said he has seen the email from the president of the teachers union, Matt Nicholls.

“The information was not presented in the right way,” Mitchell said.

In the email, Nicholls further said that he, along with the head of the Michigan Education Association, have talked with state officials about the future plans for the school district.

“I do not like the plan that the state is offering, but I am not at liberty to divulge any details of that plan,” he said in the email.

When contacted by phone, Nicholls said state officials are expected to go over the plan with school board trustees in the next week or so.

“Then, it will become public knowledge,” Nicholls said. “Things will make a lot more sense then.”

Mitchell said he doesn’t know what Nicholls is talking about.

“I don’t know why the state would speak with the union before speaking with the local governing board,” Mitchell said.

Nicholls sent two emails to teachers. The HP received copies of the emails. The first one included that Superintendent/CEO Bob Herrera is interviewing for a superintendent job at Farmington Public Schools outside of Detroit, along with looking at other options.

“I strongly encourage you to do the same,” he wrote.

In the second email, he said that he is not telling anyone what they should do.

“I am simply encouraging teachers to keep their options open,” he wrote. “There is no long-term strategy to raise teacher pay or lower the cost of benefits. ... the Board has to cut $500,000 next year. My job is to look out for the best interests of the teachers, not the district. I do not want this district to fail, and I believe our students deserve better.”

Herrera was among the seven candidates interviewed for the Farmington position earlier this week. He is one of the two finalists to be interviewed May 29 for the position.

In a written statement regarding the school district’s current state, Mitchell invited community members to contact the board’s office with any questions or concerns. 

“The Board believes that it must focus on improving the District’s student academic performance and solidifying its financial position. The Board recognizes that it cannot address all of these challenges without support from the community, and welcomes feedback and suggestions from the community-at-large. If you have District related issues that you would like to discuss with the Board please contact the Board office at (269) 605-1000,” Mitchell wrote.

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege