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The Board of Regents wants to review a 30-year-old master plan of state school districts with an eye toward combining districts or sharing services, state Education Commissioner Thomas Sobol has said.

He said the state's budget problems make it necessary to take a comprehensive look at how money can be saved through the education structure. "In times like these, you have to go back to the drawing board and rethink the way we're doing things," he said.

State officials drew a master plan for school districts in the 1950s, much like political boundaries are redrawn every 10 years. The state didn't force districts to combine or change then, but offered financial inducements for local school boards to reshape in the way the state advised, Sobol said.

That's the approach the Board of Regents is interested in taking this time, he said.

That might mean encouraging adjoining districts that have lost enrollment through the 1980s to combine, saving administrative costs. It could also mean having districts explore ways of saving money through use of new technology, such as connecting classrooms through computers or interactive television, he said.

"It would be irresponsible in 1990 not to take a good, hard look at something that's been in existence for over 30 years and may not square with the times," Sobol said.

"We may find something," he said. "We may not. It would be irresponsible not to look."

With the state facing a projected $1 billion budget deficit, Gov. Cuomo and the State Legislature cut nearly $250 million in education programs earlier this month. That includes $190 million in direct aid to local school districts.

The Regents, who normally give a recommendation on state aid for the coming year's budget in November, Friday put that off for the second straight month. Sobol said education officials want to get a clearer look at the state's darkening financial picture in January.

The review of the master plan is likely to take several months, he said. "This will not be an immediate cost-saving measure," he said.

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