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(Michelle Higginbotham / American Press)

(Michelle Higginbotham / American Press)

Editorial: 2012 had its ups, downs but offered optimism for coming year

Last Modified: Friday, December 28, 2012 8:12 PM

As 2012 comes into focus in our rear view mirror, it’s a natural pause for reflection on what was and what might have been.

The news epicenter in Southwest Louisiana radiated from Westlake with two stories of promise.

Clearly, the top story of the year in our corner of the state and the biggest business story in the South arrived in early December when Sasol announced it would move forward with plans to build a chemical plant and a gas-to-liquids facility in Westlake worth a total investment of up to $21 billion.

The GTL plant, the first of its kind in North America, and ethane cracker facility would represent the largest single manufacturing investment in Louisiana history.

The Sasol complex would employ 7,000 construction jobs at peak time and 1,200 permanent positions once completed.

Experts say the Sasol plants could lure to the area other petro-chemical plants interested in using the facilities’ by-products.

Westlake’s Josh Ledet captivated Southwest Louisiana’s attention when he competed in Fox network’s ‘‘American Idol’’ and advanced to the finals against eventual winner Phillip Phillips.

Ledet mania unified the area and built to a crescendo days before the finals when 8,000 turned out under threatening skies for a parade in his honor and a standing-room-only crowd packed Burton Coliseum for a welcome-home performance.

Other news items weren’t as uplifting.

DeQuincy took a haymaker on the chin when Gov. Bobby Jindal unexpectedly announced in September the closure of C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center. The loss of the 269 jobs associated with the prison sent an economic shiver through Calcasieu and Beauregard parishes.

Though it didn’t have the same economic impact of Phelps’ shuttering, the closure of Sacred Heart/Saint Katherine Drexel Catholic School after 104 years of service in Lake Charles was equally sad news.

School news, or more appropriately, education reform dominated the state Legislature this year.

The Jindal administration pushed through a series of bills that radically overhauled teacher evaluations and allowed for low income families of students attending struggling schools to qualify for state-funded vouchers to transfer to private schools.

Both measures encountered problems. Jindal’s hand-picked Superintendent of Education, John White, hatched a Value Added Model rating system for evaluating teachers than in effect obliterated teacher tenure in Louisiana. White projected that only 10 percent of teachers would earn the highest rating in a given year. To attain tenure, a teacher has to earn that highest rating in five out of six years.

The implementation of the voucher system also caused embarrassment for the Department of Education when it was revealed that several private schools, including two in Southwest Louisiana that had applied to accept voucher students, had suitability issues. Ultimately, some schools’ applications were rejected, but not before White and company had to wipe egg from their faces.

Like most years, 2012 had its ups and downs, but offered optimism for the coming year.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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