SACRAMENTO (AP) - In a time of sharp concern about school safety, the state's latest report on campus crime shows a 7 percent increase in violent offenses and an 11 percent rise in drug and alcohol crimes in California's public schools last year.
Some of the increases are due to better reporting by schools in a year when the Columbine High School massacre and other attacks focused public attention on school violence, state officials said. But they are still concerned.
''Our children need to be able to learn without distraction, harassment or intimidation,'' said state school Superintendent Delaine Eastin.
The California Safe Schools Assessment, being released Wednesday by Eastin's state Department of Education, lists crimes reported by the state's nearly 1,000 school districts for the 1998-99 school year.
The overall statewide rate for violent crimes increased from 3.74 incidents per 1,000 students in 1997-98 to 4.02 in 1998-99.
The actual numbers, however, remain small in a school system with 5.8 million students. Eastin stressed that ''our schools continue to be safe havens for the vast majority of our students.''
The rate for all drug and alcohol offenses increased from 3.55 incidents per 1,000 students in 1997-98 to 3.94 in 1998-99. The rates for sale or furnishing of alcohol or drugs increased 62 percent and for possession of alcohol rose 33 percent.
Eastin said the increases in violent crimes and drug and alcohol offenses mostly reflect improved reporting by schools and also the focused attention to safety and security during the last year.
The Columbine shootings that left 15 students and a teacher dead in Littleton, Colo., prompted California lawmakers and Gov. Gray Davis to provide $101 million in grants to high schools to improve school safety.
Just Tuesday, a school shooting in Michigan - where a 6-year-old girl was allegedly killed by a 7-year-old classmate - caused one lawmaker to urge expanding the California safety grants to elementary schools. The report said violence in California elementary schools increased for the third year.
In the fourth yearof the California Safe Schools Assessment, the department beefed up training of local school officials in how to report crimes and sent state officials to districts to check the reports, Eastin said.
Pamela Riley, executive director of the Center for the Prevention of School Violence in Raleigh, N.C., agreed that efforts around the country to improve reporting and put more law enforcement in schools are resulting in increases in the number of campus crimes reported. California is one of eight states that collects statewide data on school crimes.
For example, one California district's officials believe reporting practices could be the reason for an apparently huge jump in violence.
The reported rate of battery in Lake County's Konocti Unified School District soared 32 percent. That's probably because new administrators in the 3,300-student district improved their reporting, said Doug Baumgart, assistant superintendent.
''We haven't noticed an increase in violent crimes,'' he said. ''Our expulsion numbers have if anything gone down over the past couple of years.''
Likewise, a 154 percent jump in drug and alcohol offenses reported at the Galt Joint Union High School District in southern Sacramento County probably was caused by an undercover police sting at Galt High School, said vice principal Craig Murray.
Two state task forces are currently studying the issue of school crime.
Preliminary recommendations from one of them include requiring schools to coordinate crisis intervention plans with local police, having schools develop safety plans with parents, teachers and community organizations, increasing training for school and police officials and making punishment more uniform for violence, drug and alcohol offenses.
On the Internet: www.cde.ca.gov