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NYS Comptroller

THOMAS P. DiNAPOLI

Taxpayers' Guide to State and Local Audits

State Education Department
Compliance With the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act


Issued: January 13, 2015
Link to full audit report 2013-S-71
Link to 90-day response

Purpose
To determine whether school districts outside of New York City are properly and accurately reporting statistics on crime and incidents to the State Education Department (Department). We also assessed whether the Department has used incident data to identify school districts with comparatively high rates of incidents to help ensure they have adequate violence prevention and response programs. Our audit covered the period July 1, 2011 through June 16, 2014.

Background
The Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act (SAVE Act) was enacted in July 2000 to address the need to provide a safe learning environment for New York’s students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. To comply with the SAVE Act, the Department developed the Violent and Disruptive Incident Report (VADIR) and a process for collecting annual data from school districts about incidents that occur in schools and on school property. The Department uses the data to calculate a School Violence Index (SVI) for each school. Schools at or above a certain SVI threshold for two consecutive years are designated persistently dangerous and are, by definition, unsafe. The Department posts incident data and the list of persistently dangerous schools on its website, and provides assistance to help schools comply with SAVE Act requirements and reduce the number and severity of incidents.

Key Findings

  • We reviewed incident records for seven schools for the 2011-12 school year. We identified 935 unreported VADIR incidents, which represented 29 percent of the 3,175 reportable incidents for the six schools whose underreporting we were able to quantify. We were not able to determine the extent to which the remaining school, Burgard Vocational High School in Buffalo (Burgard), underreported because it used an incorrect recording and reporting methodology.
  • We identified 82 VADIR incidents that schools misclassified in their internal records, generally in VADIR categories that were considered less serious. The misclassifications were at six of the seven schools we visited.
  • Based on our calculations, the SVI for two schools – Burgard and Fulton Junior High School in Oswego – was above the threshold for Department consideration as potentially persistently dangerous or persistently dangerous.
  • The Department did not designate persistently dangerous schools for the 2013-14 school year, despite the SAVE Act requirement that it do so annually. Further, by not designating these schools, the Department failed to comply with its own Regulations as well as provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 that require it to notify local educational agencies of this designation in time for these agencies to notify parents of the option to transfer to a safe public school.
  • One school did not retain summary VADIR information as required. Two schools were not aware of the requirement to report incidents that occur during summer school months.

Key Recommendations

  • Assess risks related to SAVE Act compliance and focus resources to broaden efforts to improve the accuracy and completeness of VADIR reporting.
  • Revise existing VADIR guidance to provide more and better quality assistance to schools and districts.
  • Comply with provisions of the SAVE Act and the corresponding Regulations that require the Department to annually designate persistently dangerous schools and notify local educational agencies of the designation so they can notify parents timely of the option to transfer to a safe public school, if one is available.

Other Related Audits/Reports of Interest

State Education Department: Reporting of Violent and Disruptive Incidents by Public Schools (2005-S-38)
State Education Department: Reporting of Violent and Disruptive Incidents by Public Schools (2007-F-13)


State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Andrea Inman
Phone: (518) 474-3271; Email: StateGovernmentAccountability@osc.state.ny.us
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236