06/11/2015 06:24 EDT | Updated 06/11/2016 05:59 EDT

Quebec proposes cutting maintenance budget of half-empty schools

English school boards are worried that one of the cuts imposed by the province will disproportionately affect English schools.

Quebec's Education Ministry wants to cut funding for maintenance and building upkeep at schools that are at less than half-full.

At the English Montreal School Board, that would affect more than a dozen elementary schools and at least three high schools.

At the Lester B. Pearson School Board, three elementary and three high schools fall into that category — including Thorndale Elementary School in Pierrefonds, which is at 44 per cent capacity.

"What are the schools supposed to do? Just let the schools fall apart?" said Sergey Gritsenko, a parent whose children go to Thorndale.

"It's hard that all these cuts are coming," said parent Lisa Labelle.

New provincial rules say any school operating at less than 50% capacity, and that has nearby schools that could take its students, would be cut off from maintenance and upkeep funding starting in the fall.

That would include cutting things like day-to-day upkeep as well as major repairs, such as a new roof.

The boards say some schools with low enrolment are kept open on purpose.

"There are some schools we've chosen to keep open with low enrolment because they're in underprivileged areas," said Suanne Stein Day, chair of the Lester B. Pearson School Board

The boards say if the cuts to maintenance take effect this fall, they'll have to absorb the maintenance costs because the law forbids them from closing any schools without holding a year-long consultation.

"The deadline has come and gone. There's not going to be any closures. That's for certain," said EMSB commissioner Sylvia Lo Bianco.

The budget measures have left boards wondering if the government is trying to force them to consider closing schools with dwindling populations.

"This, I see as a direct attack on the English schools," said Stein Day.

Education Minister Francois Blais said the government just wants to "identify" underused schools where it could cut costs.

"The objective is certainly not to close schools," Blais said.