Unified School Board Member Martavius Jones is used to being asked, "How did we get here?" The question references the track that Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools are on toward the planned merger.
Jones spoke Tuesday at the inaugural "Lunch and Learn" initiative hosted by The New Tri-State Defender in collaboration with Networking in Memphis at the Lunch Box Eats restaurant on Fourth Street downtown. For 30 minutes, he talked about the unified school system and various topics associated with changes in public education in Memphis and Shelby County.
"Your budget is your financial plan for executing your academic plan," said Jones. "I don't care how ambitious your academic goals are, without having the proper funding to implement those goals they are just wishes and desires. That's how we got here."
Jones, who took a leadership role in the process that led to the Memphis City Schools board voting to surrender its charter, said he did so because he perceived a threat to the future funding and academic plans of Memphis City Schools system. He outlined how he arrived at that position, explaining that development created a situation where 40 percent of the property values of Shelby County rested outside the city's limits. Coupling that fact with the power of special school districts, a scenario evolved where that 40 percent would have been enough to properly educate and fund a special school district outside of Memphis, denying Memphians the use of those funds.
"I felt the quality of education that we were trying to deliver in Memphis City Schools would have been irreparably harmed and would suffer if we removed 40 percent of the second largest funding source for the school system, that being money coming from total Shelby County, Tennessee" said Jones.
Careful not to frame the situation in an urban versus suburban or city versus suburbs context, Jones said he favored a move toward equal representation and the "elimination of taxation with representation," which he said Memphians had been facing relative to financially supporting Shelby County Schools since 1998.
Turning to the Transition Planning Commission responsible for recommending a merger plan, Jones said he initially had concerns about the TPC because it was weighted toward the suburban bodies. Most members, he learned, were committed to "do what's best for all children."
It would be unrealistic, said Jones, for the TPC to think the unified school board will put its wholesale stamp of approval on the recommended plan.
Jones said he finds it particularly troublesome that the goal of a world-class school system would be pursued with a substantial investment of funds, noting the millions of dollars cut from the city schools budget over the last six years.
President / Publisher Bernal E. Smith II said the TSD is ecstatic about the launch of its new "Lunch and Learn" initiative in collaboration with Networking in Memphis.
"Twice monthly we will select a black-owned restaurant located within the Greater Memphis area to which we will go and invite our readers and the general public for a 'Dutch treat' (buy your own) lunch," said Smith, acknowledging Kaia Brewer, the owner of Lunch Box Eats.
"At that lunch we will host thought leaders and influencers from around the area to speak and share information with the attendees, allowing for more direct interaction and greater understanding of various issues facing the community."
"Lunch and Learn" is designed to:
• Have a positive financial boost for the business selected for that day.
• Bring a heightened awareness of a topic or issue to TSD readers/event attendees.
• Allow for networking and the establishment of new relationships for TSD readers/event attendees.
• Foster greater connection between the TSD readership/attendees and leaders of the community.