MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
NORRIS: leaky ceilings, peeling paint and interruptions many times a day from trains barreling by her classroom. Part of the school is condemned.
BARACK OBAMA: The letter asks us for help and says, we are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
OBAMA: So we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina, but also the world. We are not quitters. That's what she said.
BLOCK: They had a welcome home celebration for Ty'Sheoma Bethea at J.V. Martin Junior High today. Afterward, I reached the school district's superintendent Ray Rogers who says it's time to start over.
RAY ROGERS: We, in this community, have passed a bond referendum. The only problem is is the bonds will not bring what we thought they would bring when we passed the referendum. And right now we're on hold, and we are shovel-ready. We have got the plans laying on the table, but no money to build with.
BLOCK: How much would it cost?
ROGERS: If you cut it to the bare bones, you're talking about somewhere in the neighborhood of 24 million.
BLOCK: And that would be moving the whole school someplace else.
ROGERS: Yes, ma'am. Yes, ma'am.
BLOCK: What happened with that local bond issue that passed?
ROGERS: Well, you know, it's like the economy. Right now when you put bonds out to bid, the problem is is that no one wants to bid on them. And the banks, they're not real enthusiastic about dealing with loans like that. We were looking for somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 million for all three school districts in our first phase. And right now we're looking in the high 30s, low 40s and that just won't get it done.
BLOCK: Well, there is some money for school construction in the stimulus package, but not as much as originally was in there. How confident are you that you might get funding for that?
ROGERS: Well, I'm not confident because I don't know. But it's just like Ty'Sheoma, you can dream and you can hope, it doesn't mean that it's going to happen, but you don't quit trying and you don't quit thinking about it.
BLOCK: And your school certainly got some attention from Barack Obama during the campaign. He visited twice.
ROGERS: He did. Yeah, he visited Dillon twice, and he was very positive. And, you know, he said I won't forget you. And in his mind I don't think he ever has.
BLOCK: Is this true that the Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke went to J.V. Martin?
ROGERS: Yes, ma'am. Ben Bernanke graduated, I want to say 1969, '70. The part that has been condemned was the auditorium that he received his high school diploma in.
BLOCK: I gather J.V. Martin is involved in a court battle, along with other schools - a court battle against the state saying that the state has failed to provide minimally adequate education to students in these schools.
ROGERS: That's correct. Thirty-six school districts sued the state of South Carolina and eight school districts actually went to trial. And the thing that we're saying is you take a look across the state, and you take a look across the nation and you see the haves and the have-nots. And, you know, there's got to be some median somewhere that we can hit. And it's just not, this is not it.
BLOCK: You know, it struck me that for this eighth grade girl, Ty'Sheoma Bethea, it's a tricky position to be in. I mean, you want to be proud of your school and there's all sorts of pressure involved with that. And you also, she obviously wanted to be honest about what she thought the problems were there and got a lot of attention for it.
ROGERS: You know, the thing about it is it's a double-edged sword. And, you know, people don't like to air their dirty laundry. But there becomes a time when there needs to be change and things need to be done different. And we're at that stage with this school.
BLOCK: That's Ray Rogers, superintendent of Dillon School District Two, talking about J.V. Martin Junior High School in Dillon, South Carolina. His student, Ty'Sheoma Bethea, was the president's guest last night at his address to congress.
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