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An expected loss of nearly 4,300 means the board may cancel schools.

A couple of years ago, Hillsborough school officials were so worried about overcrowded campuses that they talked about double sessions, a year-round school calendar, raising taxes and bringing in more portable classrooms.

But this school year, enrollment will likely drop by nearly 4,300 students - an extraordinary reversal after nearly a quarter-century of unstopped growth.

The main reason for the change: Families are avoiding Florida because of the rising cost of living here, officials say.

"The last couple of years, with insurance rates and housing costs, we aren't as inexpensive as we used to be," said Jim Hosler, a demographer hired by the school district to examine enrollment trends.

On Monday, the Hillsborough School Board learned that enrollment is expected to fall from 187,205 students last year to 182,910 this year. Board members also heard their demographer's forecast of slower growth over the next several years.

So today, they're expected to vote on a plan to scale back the district's school construction schedule - canceling a planned high school and two elementary schools, and delaying two middle schools.

"We won't need another high school for 20 years" after two new high schools open in 2009, said Cathy Valdes, the district's chief facilities officer.

Nevertheless, Hillsborough will still be building plenty of schools and adding wings to existing ones. More construction is needed to meet class size caps and take the pressure off crowded schools in some parts of the county.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or

Hillsborough County

School enrollment

Past years' totals and predictions for the future:

2003-04 174,021

2004-05 181,219

2005-06 186,501

2006-07 187,205

2007-08 182,910

2008-09 184,016

2009-10 185,878