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Inspection of controversial elementary school cut short, prospects unclear

Moritomo Gakuen head Yasunori Kagoike (center), is surrounded by reporters as he arrives at the Mizuho-no-kuni Kinen Elementary School grounds in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, for an inspection by the Osaka Prefectural Private School Section at around 2 p.m. on March 9, 2017. (Mainichi)

TOYONAKA, Osaka -- With about three weeks left until Mizuho-no-kuni Kinen Elementary School is scheduled to open, the media flocked to the yet unfinished institution as the president of nationalistic private school operator Moritomo Gakuen arrived for a March 9 inspection by prefectural authorities.

A steady stream of dump trucks went in and out of the site, transporting soil and gravel out of the school grounds and spreading dust everywhere. Five officials from Osaka Prefecture's Private School Section arrived at the site at around 1:50 p.m. It wasn't until about 2:15 p.m., 15 minutes past his arranged meeting with prefectural authorities, that Moritomo Gakuen chief Yasunori Kagoike arrived.

Surrounded by the media, Kagoike refused to respond to reporters' questions and silently entered the school grounds. He suddenly turned around, however, and raised his voice.

"If our school hadn't passed the requirements for certification, we wouldn't have been able to start building it," he said, referring to the green light given to his school in the past by the Osaka Prefectural Private School Council. "Please, everyone. Let me open this school," Kagoike pleaded, before walking further into the school grounds.

It has emerged that Moritomo Gakuen presented multiple parties, including the central and Osaka Prefectural governments, with three contracts listing differing construction cost estimates. While Kagoike declared that the school had cost Moritomo Gakuen 750 million yen, when asked about the inconsistent estimates in the contracts, he turned evasive, saying, "Regarding that issue... maybe another time..."

There are suspicions that Moritomo Gakuen created separate documents to use in different situations in order to obtain approval from the Osaka Prefectural Government to open the elementary school, but Kagoike categorically denied the allegations.

Moritomo Gakuen told the Private School Council that it had reached an agreement with Kaiyo Chuto Kyoiku Gakko, a private preparatory junior and senior high school in Aichi Prefecture, to set a quota of acceptances via recommendations for students graduating from Mizuho-no-kuni Kinen Elementary School. However, Kaiyo Chuto Kyoiku Gakko has denied that such an arrangement has been made.

"It can only be a clerical error on the part of our consultant," Kagoike said about the contradictory positions. "It's an ongoing effort. It's a long-term issue," Kagoike continued, as if to say that he is still in the process of securing a quota at Kaiyo Chuto Kyoiku Gakko. As for the error, he said he was "truly sorry."

Documents submitted to the Private School Council have revealed that Kagoike's resume had been falsified, and that a teacher who had been listed as being on the Mizuho-no-kuni Kinen Elementary School faculty had in fact declined the job offer.

When Kagoike left the school grounds, reporters raised questions about the revelations, but Kagoike simply said, "I'll explain it all some other time. I don't know if it will be today. But I will definitely respond to your questions," before being driven away.

At a press conference held by the prefectural government's Private School Section at 6 p.m., officials said they had met with Kagoike in a temporary office on the school grounds, and sought an explanation for the different cost estimates in the three contracts. At that point, Kagoike's wife apparently began taking photos of the officials with her cellphone. The officials asked that she stop, but she refused. Judging that they could not continue under such circumstances, prefectural officials ended the inspection at around 3 p.m., one hour earlier than planned.

Kagoike's wife is the deputy chief of Tsukamoto Kindergarten, which is also run by Moritomo Gakuen. The Private School Section lodged a complaint with Moritomo Gakuen, saying that they would not carry out on-site inspections of Mizuho-no Kinen Elementary School if Kagoike's wife is present.

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