CBC News has learned there could be far fewer schools in northern Ontario, based on enrolment data obtained from the Ministry of Education.
The numbers show the trend of declining enrolment has hit much harder in this region, compared to the provincial average.
According to 2012 numbers from the Ministry of Education, about 35 per cent of available seats in northern Ontario English schools are empty, while the provincial average is 12 per cent.
Those same numbers show 48 per cent of French seats are empty, compared to a provincial average of 30 per cent.
The director of education for the English public Rainbow board in Sudbury said empty seats are costly because funding is largely based on numbers of students — but the overhead of running an under-capacity school stays the same.
“Every school requires a secretary, every school requires a principal,” Norm Blaseg said.
The ministry of education has been helping boards across the province make up the shortfall caused by low enrolment. This year the cost of that is pegged at roughly $300 million.
Education Minister Liz Sandals said the situation needs to change, and is calling on all four boards to look harder at combining schools — and sharing space.
“It's a reality all school boards need to cope with, all school boards need to manage,” Sandals said.
Based just on numbers of students, the data shows there could be roughly 40 fewer schools in the English system alone in northern Ontario.
Following the closure and amalgamation of a number of schools in recent years, most English schools in Sudbury are at least 70 per cent full.
See map below of student enrolment by English school across northern Ontario. The map has been populated based on 2012 data provided by the Ministry of Education.
See map below of student enrolment by French school across northern Ontario. The map has been populated based on 2012 data provided by the Ministry of Education.Cartes des écoles francophones: