TORONTO — There will be school closings coming to Ontario, but the government can’t say how many schools will be shut down under proposed cuts in this week’s budget, or which areas will be most affected.

Education Minister Laurel Broten said Thursday the government was committed to ending subsidies for underused schools, but it will be up to school boards to decide which ones to close.

“It is not prudent fiscal management in a province to keep buildings open that do not have the number of students that that building has capacity for,” she said.

“We cannot subsidize schools that are at less than optimal capacity, some of them at half-capacity or less, and heat those buildings and turn the lights on every single day.”

The province said in its budget Tuesday that class sizes will remain the same but some underutilized schools will be closed and boards will be amalgamated in sparsely populated areas.

The way school board funding works makes it easier for some boards in urban areas to keep small and underused schools open than to deliver services more efficiently, the Liberals said.

They plan to cut grants to school boards and reduce incentives in the education funding formula that facilitate the continued operation of those schools.

The change, starting in 2013-14, is expected to create annual savings of $70 million. The Liberals will also cut $34 million over three years in student transportation.

Broten said that using school buildings effectively requires “an extensive conversation” with local boards and municipalities, since they know best what their communities need.

It’s not up to Queen’s Park, she added, to make that call.

Catherine Fife, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said many boards have already closed a lot of schools in an effort to reduce costs, and wasn’t yet sure what kind of criteria the government was looking at for this group of closures.

While the government singled out urban areas as places with redundancies, it hasn’t said what urban centres it’s targeting or whether the focus should be on public, Catholic or French schools.

The decision to close any school, Fife added, will have to involve lengthy consultations.

“We don’t want to make a short-term decision as school boards which would have a long-term negative financial outcome on a board,” she said.

“We know from the city of Toronto, for instance, that they’ve done some long-range population and enrolment projections which show that families will come back down into the core.”

New Democrat Peter Tabuns called the move worrisome, and said it would be wiser for the government to find other uses for those buildings rather than to sell them out outright.

“Demographic waves come and go,” he said.

“Once you lose those schools, once you lose that real estate, then you are going to get stuck with having to bus kids (and) we have a big problem already in this province with children having to get on buses.”

The Liberals have promised to stick with their plan to fully implement all-day kindergarten, which will cost $1.5 billion a year, and said Thursday they would also increase grants for students with special needs to $11,189 per student.

The Canadian Press