Violence, vandalism, and weapons offenses declined overall in New Jersey's public schools, according to an annual state report released Wednesday.

However, incidents involving substance abuse rose 10 percent from 2006-07 to 2008-09, including almost 6 percent in the second year.

"School districts appear to be making strides in reducing school-related violence," acting Education Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks said.

State law requires the education commissioner to send the Legislature an annual report on violence and vandalism in public schools. Incidents must be reported if they occur on school grounds during school hours, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event, according to the Education Department.

According to the new study, school violence statewide fell 5 percent, vandalism 3 percent, and weapons offenses 15 percent.

As legislators consider the so-called Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, which was introduced this week, the violence report said bullying, intimidation, and harassment had dropped 4 percent from 2006-07 to 2008-09.

Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a gay-rights advocacy group, called the report's data on bullying "preposterous" and "an abject embarrassment compared to the reality."

He said there were weaknesses in the state's 2002 anti-bullying law and called for passage of the new bill.

The largest share of bullies in kindergarten through 12th grade - 32 percent - was composed of seventh and eighth graders, the report said.

The next-largest group was ninth and 10th graders, at 26 percent.

Fifth and sixth graders constituted 16 percent, 11th and 12th graders 15 percent, and kindergartners through fourth graders 10 percent.

Marijuana remained the overwhelming drug of choice, with incidents increasing 9 percent over the two years. Incidents involving alcohol, a distant second, rose 2 percent after dipping the previous period.

Prescription-drug offenses, still relatively uncommon, with 238 incidents reported statewide, were up nearly 60 percent from two years earlier.

South Jersey counties also had fewer violent acts, and two had better results on substance abuse.

The news was best in Camden County, where violent incidents fell 25 percent, from 757 in 2007-08 to 565 in 2008-09. Substance abuse also dropped, from 227 incidents to 183, or 19 percent.

In Gloucester County, violent offenses went from 516 to 482, a 7 percent decline, and substance offenses fell 10 percent, from 145 to 131.

In Burlington County, violent acts went from 771 to 761, a 1 percent drop. Substance offenses rose 23 percent, from 152 to 187.

Of districts and charter schools with more than 100 students, an analysis by The Inquirer found the local districts with the highest rates of reported violent were Burlington City (8.1 incidents per 100 students), Gateway Regional (5.1 per 100), and Magnolia (4.5 per 100).

In the state, the highest reported violence rate was at Pride Academy Charter School in East Orange, 44.4 incidents per 100 students.

Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841 or