NOW THAT ITS CHIEF flak-catcher is gone, the School Reform Commission's leadership skills are in the spotlight. And it's not clear they can stand the exposure.

The commission doesn't seem to communicate all that well. Commissioner Sandra Dungee Glenn, perhaps its most community-conscious member, walked out of last week's SRC meeting after she learned that a vote would be taken that day to make recently hired Chief Operating Officer Thomas M. Brady the district's interim chief executive officer, replacing Paul Vallas.

That vote wasn't on the printed agenda.

And some members apparently don't read crucial contracts that they sign. Chairman James E. Nevels said as much after it was learned that a contract amendment he signed gave Edison Schools an extra $1.6 million in compensation.

The commissioners managed to essentially relinquish their financial oversight, but then expressed shock when Vallas informed them last year of a budget deficit - which continues to grow. The 2007-08 deficit could reach $190 million.

This is a crucial moment for Philadelphia's public schools. A permanent replacement is being sought who can maintain the academic gains and other improvements achieved over the past five years - but the SRC has managed to tick off two crucial partners, Mayor Street and Gov. Rendell.

It did that by voting on Brady and other district personnel changes without consulting the mayor or the governor, and before Rendell's new SRC appointee, Denise McGregor Armbrister, could be installed on the board. Street and Rendell questioned the hires, their qualifications and, most telling, the SRC's management skills.

The mayor and governor should have been notified and consulted.

During this transition, it's even more important that decisions be made coolly. Instead, there's a whiff of chaos in the air. Let's hope it's a temporary aberration and not a sign of things to come.

Last week's vote not only caught Glenn and commissioner Martin Bednarek unawares, it also left Street and Rendell fuming - especially after Nevels had promised to consult with them "regarding any hiring or termination of high-level administrators."

Besides Brady, James Doosey was named interim chief financial officer, to replace Folasade Olanipekun-Lewis. And Fred Farlino, a former district official, was brought out of retirement to replace Brady as chief operating officer.

These people are no mere temporary space-holders. There's no certainty that a new CEO will be selected in the near future, and there is talk that the SRC doesn't want to rush things. So this team may be on board for quite some time.

So why not include everybody in the process, especially the mayor, since he's got another six months at the helm, and the governor, to whom the district must look for millions to help flesh out its $2.2 billion budget.

ALTHOUGH WE don't always agree with them, the commissioners have our respect for volunteering for such a significant responsibility. But they are not amateurs in governance or management.

Tom Brady has his hands full. Uncertain of how long he'll have the post, he must deal with the challenge of being in charge without a full mandate.

To make this work, the SRC needs to improve its communications, provide greater transparency and oversight, and include - not alienate - the people it most needs in its corner. *