District 26 board OKs retirement bonus for employee who died days before qualifying for it
In their second vote this month on the issue, River Trails Elementary District 26 school board members Tuesday night approved payment of a roughly $50,000 bonus to the family of an employee who died six days before qualifying for it.
Board members voted 4-2 in favor of the retirement bonus for 62-year-old Debbie Platz, who died May 28 from injuries suffered after a motorcycle she was riding on crashed in North Barrington. Known for her kindness and warm smile, she was a secretary at Indian Grove Elementary School in Mount Prospect.
At the time of her death last month, Platz was six days from completing a full 29 years as a district employee. That would have qualified her for a retirement bonus of one year's salary under a River Trails Education Association union contract expiring June 30, officials said.
District 26 board members Tuesday evening approved an amendment to the collective bargaining agreement with the union to allow Platz's family to receive the roughly $50,000 retirement bonus payable over two fiscal years despite her not reaching the full 29 years. The four-year contract expires June 30.
On June 5, the Mount Prospect-based District 26 school board voted 3-3, with one member absent, on a motion to amend the union contract. That led to the second vote to approve the bonus.
District 26 board President Frank Fiarito said voting in favor of the bonus was "the right thing to do."
But board members Samuel Bae and Bill Grimpe voiced concern about setting precedent by creating an exception to allow the bonus and voted against what was called a memorandum of agreement. Both men offered their sympathies to Platz's family.
"If it was my money, I would gladly pay it out to her (family)," Bae said. "But the second part is, this is public money that we're entrusted to administer. We can't just create exceptions because that's what our emotions dictate."
About 50 people, mostly Platz family supporters, jammed into the board meeting room. Among those who spoke at public comment time to ask the board to vote for the bonus was Kathy Estes, a longtime District 26 resident and a former employee there.
"She was not only a treasured colleague but a personal friend," said Estes, who worked with Platz for five years at Indian Grove Elementary. "She was the sweetest lady who put her heart and soul in her job, her children and her colleagues and the families of Indian Grove."
Mount Prospect resident Michael Friedrichs questioned the overall idea of a retiring support employee receiving a one-year bonus and asked the board to vote against the union contract amendment.
"I do not believe that the provision is appropriate because I see no reason for any employee to work only 29 years and get paid for 30," Friedrichs said.
District 26 board members Sue Stolzer, Linda Linder, Julia Nemcek -- who was absent for the first vote -- and Fiarito were in favor of amending the contract to allow the bonus payment, with Bae and Grimpe opposed. Donna Johnson, who voted against the deal June 5, was absent.
Lake County sheriff's police said Platz was a passenger on a 2008 Harley-Davidson when its driver lost control approaching a curve on Miller Road on May 28. The motorcycle hit a curb, tossing Platz and the driver, a 62-year-old man from Mount Prospect, from the bike.