When Martavius Jones was a member of the old Memphis City Schools board, he came across as a generally forward-looking public official. He was board chairman when a massive Republican victory in the state election of 2010 awakened fears in city circles that the long-blocked ambition of the then-wholly suburban Shelby County Schools board for special-school-district status would be enabled by the new legislature. Fairly or not, many residents of Memphis' urban core believed that such an outcome would result in the diversion of significant state funding from city schools. Jones was a leader in moving for the MCS charter surrender that, in theory, would lead to the merger of city and county schools and the avoidance of any such fiscal dilution.
- Martavius Jones
Subsequently, as a member of the blue-ribbon Transition Planning Commission that was created by the legislature, allegedly to "facilitate" the merger, Jones appeared to be on the side of those who took seriously the TPC's ostensible mission of setting the stage for a successful union of the two existing systems. From the beginning, there were elements of a sham to the process, since the Norris-Todd bill which created the TPC seemed clearly designed to lead to a secession of the Shelby County suburban municipalities from the newly merged common district.
As we all know, that is how things ended up, with a fragmented local educational landscape, consisting of six suburban school districts and a rump version of SCS that served mainly Memphis and a bit of unincorporated county turf and was further balkanized by a galaxy of charter schools and a state-supported Achievement School District that gobbled up "non-performing" city schools.
But there had been a brief moment when the prospect of a unified and merged city/county school district seemed possible. That was when an initiative developed across various jurisdictional lines to name John Aitken, the respected superintendent of the old version of SCS, as superintendent of the unified new version. Unexpectedly, Jones, the presumed progressive and apostle of school unity, became one of the leaders of a stop-Aitken movement and made clear his loyalty to an urban faction that brooked no possibility of a compromise solution. The result was deadlock on the ad hoc provisional board then governing the public schools and the ultimate disintegration of the merged system.
Why do we bring up this unhappy history? Because once again we see Mr. Jones, now a member of the Memphis City Council, applying his talents, not to the process of unity but to that of parochialism in his sponsorship of a prospective referendum to force all city employees, including first responders, to live within the city limits — binding the Strickland administration's hands and limiting its options as it strives, at a time of rising violent crime, to rebuild what is a seriously truncated police force.
The able councilman from Super District 8 still, as in his time on the school board, has stand-out moments — as when he, and he alone, demurred from the original Council vote to give the Memphis Zoo board total oversight over the Overton Park Greensward. But we think he's wrong on the residency issue and urge his council colleagues — or the city's voters, if it comes to it — to reject the proposal.