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When government can't keep pace with growth, the victims often are motorists stuck in traffic jams.

But the likeliest victims of south Pasco and north Hillsborough county's growth today are children, stuck in crowded public elementary schools.

"We need to build elementary schools in a variety of places, and we're out of funding," said Ken Allen, director of pupil administration for the Hillsborough county school system.

Headlines about school crowding have focused lately on high schools because two, Gaither and Bloomingdale, are destined for double sessions this fall.

Elementary schools are escaping double sessions not because they are less crowded, but because young children and their parents are less able than teenagers to juggle their schedules, administrators said.

"It would be just a horrible situation to release elementary children at 11:30 or 11:45 and to send them home," said Randy Poindexter, assistant superintendent for administration.

Instead, portable classrooms are being packed onto the elementary schoolyards.

Shaw Elementary School, near University Mall, has 27 portables, more than the number of permanent classrooms at some schools. Schwarzkopf Elementary in Lutz, Essrig Elementary in Carrollwood and Hunter's Green Elementary also are critically overcrowded.

"They have 19 portable classrooms," said Hunter's Green parent Bob Lord, whose son Thomas has attended the school since the Lords moved here in 1993. "They had three or four last year. When we moved here, there were none."

Quail Hollow Elementary School in Wesley Chapel has 14 portables. The school, designed for 650 pupils, has 975.

Pasco school administrators had been expecting Quail Hollow to require double sessions this fall, with projected enrollment of 1,131 children. However, that has been averted thanks to the opening of nearby Denham Oaks and the transfer of dozens of children to West Zephyr and Woodland elementary schools in east Pasco and schools in Hillsborough.

"We can get by with the number we've got now," said Ginny Yanson, Quail Hollow principal. "It's not ideal, of course, but we can handle it."

The next new elementary school in south Pasco is planned for Meadow Pointe. School district officials are considering a cheaper design that would call for a core of administrative buildings surrounded by portable classrooms.

Children at crowded schools are getting a taste of double sessions in the lunchrooms. Cafeteria space cannot be added like classroom space, so the kids must eat in shifts.

That has ripple effects at home, Poindexter said. Children who eat lunch at 10:30 a.m. are so hungry by mid-afternoon that they need a snack. But the snack leaves them uninterested in dinner, he said.

On the other hand, children who eat after 1 p.m. have fasted since breakfast at 7 a.m. "They're starving," he said.

"When you put 1,200 or 1,300 students in a school that's designed for 850, you can't feed them all at the same time.".

Five future schools are taking shape in northern Hillsborough. Together, they are designed for 4,200 high-school students and 2,000 middle-school students, but only 800 elementary-school pupils. Other school projects were shelved last September after Hillsborough voters refused to raise the local sales tax to augment the school system.

The crowding has the attention of the real-estate industry, said Randy Warner, Florida director of American Metro/Study, a real estate research firm.

"Schools are an important reason why people buy where they buy," he said. "It's the biggest issue affecting growth."

News of double sessions at Gaither and Bloomingdale highs "is causing shifts in the market to occur," Warner said.

"That is one of the things that's guaranteed to be asked by a potential homebuyer," he said. "Even the retirees are concerned about the schools because of resale values."

_ Times staff writer Wes Platt contributed to this report.