South by Southwest Conference and Festivals 2016

Austin Mayor Steve Adler discusses local education challenges March 10 during the annual SXSWedu Conference & Festival. Austin Mayor Steve Adler discusses local education challenges March 10 during the annual SXSWedu Conference & Festival.[/caption]

Austin mayor explains possible ‘tax swap’

Austin Mayor Steve Adler assessed the state of local education at a SXSWedu Conference & Festival town hall March 10.

Adler explained to a national and international SXSWedu audience the statewide school finance concept of recapture, or the transfer of funds from Texas school districts with high property values to the state of Texas to be redistributed to poorer districts. He added that AISD sends hundreds of millions of dollars back to the state annually, and that is slated to continue for the upcoming 2016-17 fiscal year.

One strategy to address recapture locally is a “tax swap” with AISD, which could help increase revenue for the school district, Adler said. AISD would agree to lower its tax rate, and the city would agree to increase its tax rate by the same or lower amount, reserving funds for additional AISD services, Adler said.

Adler added that legal teams are reviewing the tax swap concept.

“We fight this guerrilla war all the time, so we’re constantly trying things,” Adler said. “And I think this one holds promise because I think that it fits within the rules, and I think we’re going to make it happen.”

Future of transportation a topic at Interactive

Self-driving cars, hyperloops and other transportation innovations are coming, and cities must adapt, South by Southwest Conferences & Festivals panelists said during a SXSW Interactive Conference & Festival session March 14.

Andrew Johnston, who runs the Austin-based transportation discussion community Energy Thought Summit, and Josh Rasmussen, CEO of electric bike maker Bolt Motorbikes, said with population growth throughout the world, cities and policy makers must plan for alternative transportation options.

Johnston said more areas should consider adopting what Austin and the city’s energy utility, Austin Energy, have done to encourage adoption of electric and alternative energy transportation options. The city and utility cover up to half the cost of some electric vehicle purchases, Johnston said.

“That’s a huge investment in emerging technology from a city and a local utility,” he said. “That really puts skin in the game and shows the city cares as well.”

Johnston and Rasmussen predicted that electric vehicle sales would outpace gasoline vehicles sales by 2050. There is a need for more electric vehicle infrastructure, Rasmussen said.

In a separate panel March 15, panelists discussed the potential success of self-driving cars. In recent months Google has begun testing self-driving cars in Austin, and General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. have begun working on their own plans for vehicles that do not require a human driver.

Self-driving cars, which would be operated by computers connected to a series of cameras and sensors, have the potential to change the way people travel, the way cities are built and the spending habits of consumers.

Johanna Zmud, senior research scientist with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, said if drivers are not responsible for operating the vehicle, drivers could read or catch up on work during their commute.

Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz helped lead a session at SXSWedu on March 9. Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz helped lead a session at SXSWedu on March 9.[/caption]

AISD showcases ‘whole-child’ approach

SXSWedu Conference & Festival attendees participated in hands-on social and emotional learning, or SEL, activities at a March 9 session featuring Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz at the JW Marriott hotel.

An activity Cruz led during the session required pairs of attendees to stand up and explain the origins of their names to each other. Cruz said the activity made participants move, share their history, address diversity, build community relations and create narratives—all elements AISD incorporates into its “whole-child” approach to prepare children for college, career and life. The components to AISD’s whole-child approach are coordinated school health, creative learning strategies, SEL and culturally responsive strategies.

“A holistic approach results in more than improved academics,” Cruz said. “It provides students with a rich education with benefits that last a lifetime.”

President Barack Obama is interviewed during SXSW Interactive on March 11. President Barack Obama is interviewed during SXSW Interactive on March 11.[/caption]

Obama emphasizes government, tech industry collaboration

President Barack Obama, the first sitting U.S. president to attend the South by Southwest Conferences & Festivals, emphasized using technology to make it easier for citizens to engage with their government during his remarks March 11 at the Long Center for the Performing Arts.

Obama, interviewed by Evan Smith—CEO and co-founder of nonprofit news organization The Texas Tribune—discussed civic engagement and catalyzing people in the private and nonprofit sectors to help tackle some of the nation’s challenges.

“We are at a moment in history where technology, globalization, our economy is changing so fast,” he said. “And this gathering, South by Southwest, brings together people who are at the cutting edge of those changes. Those changes offer us enormous opportunities but also are very disruptive and unsettling. They empower individuals to do things that they could have never dreamed of before, but they also empower folks who are very dangerous [to] spread dangerous messages.”

He said it is important for people such as those attending the SXSW Interactive Conference & Festival, regardless of their party affiliation, to design the systems to improve voter participation.

Chef, delivery service CEO agree: Customers still their top priority

When it comes to delivering food fast, an Austin chef and the CEO of Austin-based Favor agreed the customer is still most important.

Chef Paul Qui and Favor CEO and President Jag Bath discussed striking a balance between keeping customers satisfied with both quality and speed during a March 13 Interactive panel at the 2016 SXSW Interactive Conference & Festival.

Qui said he decided to partner with Favor for delivery because he knew the company as a user himself. He also partners with uberEATS.

“At the end of the day, actually, most of my meals probably come through Favor right now,” he said.

Qui acknowledged not all food should be delivered fast. He said Favor would not work at his upscale restaurant, Qui, but it does work for East Side King and Thai Kun, which have locations throughout Austin.

“For me it’s all about the personal service and the guest in the end,” he said. “It’s about partnering with the right company that will allow my guests to experience what I want them to experience with my food and my concepts.”

Bath said technology companies such as Favor use location-based services that have allowed their companies to thrive.


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