Also during a called meeting Thursday at its annual retreat in Dahlonega, the Forsyth County Board of Education discussed:
* The timeline for developing public information on an extension of the 1-cent sales tax for education. If the board chooses to move forward with the matter, it would be put to a vote in November.
If approved, the 1 percent special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST V would continue the current sales tax for another five years beginning in 2017 to make payments on the voter-approved 2005 and 2007 bonds.
* The potential for Gov. Nathan Deal to allot $300 million from the state budget for a 3 percent teacher pay raise and $141 million for enrollment growth and teaching and learning. The budget must pass through the legislature, which is in session through March.
* A draft of a financial impact statement for new students to the county. Created by District 25 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon, who was not present, and introduced by board member Kristin Morrissey, the matter centered whether the school system could provide impact statements by dollar amounts to the county commission regarding rezoning requests.
-- Kayla Robins
DAHLONEGA — It’s no secret Forsyth County is growing, proven by the school system’s plans to open four new schools by 2018. It’s also no secret the school system is among the top performing districts in Georgia.
But why, specifically, are parents choosing the Forsyth County school district? One reason may be its special education department, which continues to see annual growth in enrollment and graduation.
Sarah Taylor, director of the department, addressed School Superintendent Jeff Bearden, his cabinet and the school board Thursday during their annual retreat in Dahlonega.
While district-wide enrollment grew nearly 30 percent from 2010 to the current school year, enrollment of students with disabilities increased more than 41 percent, according to Taylor.
Of the 44,424 students attending a public school in Forsyth, 5,392 participate in special education programming.
An increase in students means more classrooms are needed. In that same six-year time period, the district increased the number of special education classrooms from 90 to 120.
Half of those additions were skills-based autism classrooms. Needs also centered on moderate intellectual disabilities — 10 classrooms were added — and accommodated curriculum autism, for which nine were added.
According to a Georgia Department of Education student data record report, students with speech/language impairment account for nearly 33 percent of special education enrollees. Students with a specific learning disability account for about 25 percent.
While autism was recorded at 9 percent, Taylor said that percentage in reality is higher because autism tends to be hidden in or combined with other disabilities.
Growing a program can only be part of the equation. The students need to graduate.
The graduation rate for the district as a whole increased to 94 percent in 2015 from 90.3 percent in 2014. Within enrollment for students with disabilities, that rate increased to 75 percent from 60.3 percent. That’s a 14.7 percent instead of a 3.7 increase.
Those rates signify the four-year cohort rate, which judges graduation based on students who do so in four years.
Taking the cohort rate out — Taylor said students with disabilities may still graduate, but need more time — special education enrollees graduated at 87.8 percent last year, up from 66 percent in 2014.
The dropout rate fell from 3.2 in 2014 to 1.5 in 2015, she said.
In 2010, only 56.6 percent of students with disabilities graduated, recording a dropout rate of 4.2.
Taylor credited “highly certified” teachers for the success of the department, noting many special education teachers employed in Forsyth are certified both in special education and their respective subject.
Another highlight Taylor mentioned was the plan for the LIFE program, which collaborates with companies such as Siemens and the Hill Center to employ former special education students, to add Northside Hospital-Forsyth as a partner this year.