More than 600 schools across Ontario have too few students, with many of those underutilized buildings located in the Toronto area.

Ontario's Education Minister Liz Sandals says the province spends more than $1 billion to keep underutilized schools open, and trustees in all boards must decides which ones could be sold off, merged with another board or close.

"It may be that a school that’s surplus to one board is exactly the school that another board really, really needs," Sandals told reporters. "We (want) the best space possible in which children can learn, and to make sure that rather than spend $1 billion on an empty space, we spend it on kids that are actually here."

Sandals met with reporters on Thursday after the Toronto District School Board released a list of 130 schools that are at 65 per cent or less of their capacity. The list compares the number of students a school can accommodate to the number of students who are actually enrolled. It shows that enrollment is significantly below capacity at nearly 20 per cent of Toronto schools.

Sandals said the list is not an indication of what schools should remain open. She said in some cases, older but smaller schools at full capacity should close, and those students can be sent to an underutilized school with more modern facilities.

"Just because you've got a list of schools, that's got nothing to do with whether or not that’s a good school to keep or a good school to close," she said.

Sandals noted, however, that underutilized schools in smaller communities may have to stay open because students would have to travel too far to attend class in another community.

"We actually do have special funding for schools located in isolated community that while we recognize they are underutilized, they must stay open."

TDSB list

According to board's data, 84 of 473 elementary schools, or 17.8 per cent, are far below maximum capacity. The schools highlighted in the lists use 65 per cent or less of their capacity in the 2014-2015 school year.

The school board has been under pressure from the Ontario government to sell off surplus properties, so the TDSB is looking at which schools have the lowest enrollment. During a meeting Wednesday night, board members said they'd be looking at the list of schools that fall below 65 per cent capacity to help make the decision of which schools to close.

Jean Augustine Girls' Leadership Academy in Scarborough had the lowest enrollment rate at 22 per cent.

The following schools round out the bottom five:

  • Kensington Community School - 25 per cent
  • Fisherville Senior Public School - 28 per cent
  • Sunny View Junior and Senior Public School - 31 per cent
  • Ernest Public School - 35 per cent

Meanwhile, Avondale Public School in North York had the highest rate at 257 per cent.

The following schools were also in the top five:

  • George Webster Elementary School - 220 per cent
  • Courcelette Public School - 159 per cent
  • Avondale Elementary Alternative School - 158 per cent
  • Keele Street Public School - 154 per cent

Enrollment lower in secondary schools

There are fewer secondary schools than elementary schools in the TDSB, but a higher percentage of schools fall below the 65 per cent capacity threshold.

Of the board's 116 secondary schools, 46 are significantly below capacity, or 39.7 per cent.

The schools with the lowest rates of enrollment are:

  • Eastern Commerce Collegiate Institute - 7 per cent
  • Nelson A Boylen Collegiate Institute - 13 per cent
  • School of Experimental Education - 21 per cent
  • Central Toronto Academy - 25 per cent
  • Central Etobicoke High School - 26 per cent

The schools with the highest rates are mostly alternative schools:

  • Subway Academy II - 200 per cent
  • School of Life Experience - 183 per cent
  • SEED Alternative School - 175 per cent
  • Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute - 146 per cent
  • East York Alternative Secondary School - 140 per cent

With files from The Canadian Press