A fourth candidate is now running to replace retiring Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Sheila Jordan.

Helen Foster, who sits on the board of the San Lorenzo Unified School District and works as human resources director for the Hayward Unified School District, said she decided to enter the competitive race after being unimpressed by the pool of three announced contenders.

"It doesn't sound like they've got a clear platform of how they would improve on what is the status quo right now," Foster said.

The education office under Jordan's 16-year tenure has missed too many opportunities to train teachers and administrators across the county's 18 school districts, falling behind neighboring Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties, Foster said.

"It's almost as if they don't realize their mission is service," she said. "One of the things I've heard repeatedly is the lack of outreach, the lack of new ideas."

Foster said among her priorities would be implementing California's new "local control" funding formula and nationwide Common Core standards. A former high school science teacher who plays the viola, she said she wants to attract more funding to science and math education while also restoring arts programs.

She will be running against San Leandro City Councilwoman Ursula Reed, Pleasanton School Board Member Jeff Bowser and Alameda County Associate Superintendent Karen Monroe, who is Jordan's preferred successor.

All have experience as educators or school administrators. If no one wins at least 50 percent of the June 3 primary electorate, the top two compete in November's general election.

Oakland to host barbecue competition

Forget the garlic fries; Oakland Art + Soul Festival will return this year with blues, gospel and the city's first ever professional barbecue competition.

City officials hope the Oaktown Throwdown will breathe new life into the city's signature celebration that has endured declining attendance in recent years.

There had been talk of abandoning Art + Soul altogether and folding its musical performances into the Love our Lake Festival, which made its debut this year.

But last month, the city was selected to host a barbecue competition sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Association.

The event scheduled for Aug. 2 -- the first full-day of Art + Soul -- will feature 50 professional pitmasters from all over the state squaring off against each other as well as a backyard battle for local competitors.

"We believe we have the ingredients for a very successful event that is going to put us back on top," Oakland Marketing Manager Samee Roberts told council members this week. The full council is expected to approve the barbecue competition later this year.

FEMA grant to fund 12 new firefighters

A $4.1 million federal grant will help the Alameda County Fire Department hire and train 12 new firefighters this spring.

The new hires could work anywhere, but the 2-year grant is designed to maintain current staffing levels and replace retiring frontline crew members in the rescue company at Fire Station No. 24, located in unincorporated Ashland between Interstate 580 and East 14th Street, said David Rocha, the interim fire chief.

"If we didn't get the grant, we'd have an operating budget deficit," said Rocha, who said the department was hit hard by lowered property tax revenue during the recession combined with rising health and pension costs.

The department and firefighters' union applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency last year and made their case with letters of support from U.S. Reps. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; and Mike Honda, D-San Jose. Oakland and the city of Alameda have previously won similar grants, Rocha said.