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A new Wisconsin law designed to limit increases in teachers' salaries and benefits does not pertain to the Madison teachers' union, because it represents some nonteaching district employees, a state judge has ruled.

The legislature adopted the law as a way of helping to hold down local property-tax increases. The Madison case has been closely watched by other Wisconsin districts whose teachers' unions include nonteaching workers.

The ruling came late last month as a contract dispute between Madison Teachers Inc. and the local school board continued.

A state circuit court judge found that the law, enacted last summer, applies only to bargaining units "consisting of'' professionals licensed by the state superintendent of public instruction. The 2,700-member Madison union includes about 300 school nurses, coaches, and others not licensed by the state chief.

The law allows districts to avoid binding arbitration by offering unions pay and benefit increases of at least 3.8 percent.

School officials have offered Madison teachers that minimum package, with a pay raise of only 0.75 percent, said John Matthews, the executive director of the union. The union has pushed for wage increases of at least 2.6 percent in the first year of the contract.

Susan Hawley, the chief negotiator for the school board, said the district will appeal the decision.

Easing a Newark Takeover?: The New Jersey Senate this month passed a bill that could ease a state takeover of the Newark school district by rendering moot a dispute between the state education department and the district over investigative procedures.

The bill would strip local school officials of the right to have attorneys, stenographers, or recording devices present during interviews conducted for comprehensive compliance investigations. Those investigations are the last step in the lengthy takeover process.

Since the state began its investigation of Newark earlier this year, the probe has been bogged down because top school officials have refused to grant interviews without the presence of lawyers or stenographers.

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