Columbia's public schools will reopen in late August, reverberating again with the clamor of children.
But overshadowing the back-to-school routine will be difficult questions.
Columbia is a tiny, high-poverty school district struggling to prepare kids for our fast-changing, technology-driven world.
The single-municipality district has the weakest tax base in Lancaster County and the second-highest proportion of needy children. Its taxes are the county's highest and salaries the lowest. It has too many dropouts. Test scores are abysmal.
With opportunities for economic development constrained by brownfields and aging infrastructure, the resources Columbia needs for a turnaround are tight and getting tighter.
In this era of No Child Left Behind, Columbia's children are increasingly at risk — with consequences for Lancaster County employers, human service providers and taxpayers.
The framers of Pennsylvania's constitution directed the Legislature to meet society's needs with "a thorough and efficient" education system.
COLUMBIA: FAILING IN SLOW MOTION
In the wake of the recession, Columbia's schools, economy and infrastructure are crumbling. If Lancaster County's poorest, most tax-strapped school district fails, do we all fail with it?
Talk About This Series
The reporters who researched this story will be responding to your questions and talking about this series in the chat box below. Feel free to post your comments or questions at any point during the publication of this series or afterward.
It's a straightforward mandate that policymakers have shirked.Columbia isn't the only school district struggling, but among Lancaster County's 16 districts, it faces the most dire challenges.
In a six-page special report in this coming Sunday News, a series of stories will examine the causes and consequences of Columbia's school funding challenges and evaluates a range of solutions.
An enhanced special presentation will start Wednesday at LancasterOnline.
The staffers who spent months reporting this project - Jeff Hawkes, Susan Baldrige and Gil Smart - will be available on this page throughout the publication of this series to answer your questions and talk about the problems facing the district.
You can email comments to this address as well.
Years in the making, Columbia's problems can't be fixed overnight.
But this report can, perhaps, be a first step, by sparking a communitywide discussion.
The challenge is to see that every child in Columbia, and Lancaster County, has an equal shot at a 21st-century education that prepares our future workers, parents and leaders for success and helps them reach their fullest potential.
Here is the schedule for this series on LancasterOnline:
• Introduction: How economic decline and big needs are battering the Columbia Borough School District
• The struggle to keep pace: How one Columbia family survives
• A look at poverty in the school district
• Housing issues
• A look at the Northend project
• Economic development
• Community spirit
• Meet the new superintendent
Note: The entire series will appear in print in the Sunday News.