Twelve firms have responded to the school district's "request for proposals" to conduct a security audit of the town's eight public schools -- a level of interest well received by several town officials.

The 12 plans were submitted by the RFP deadline of 10 a.m. Monday. Education officials have not disclosed the names of the bidding firms or any other details about the proposals.

"We need to determine who are the responsible respondents who have met the requirements of the RFP," Nancy Harris, assistant superintendent for business, said Monday. "This was just the start of the process."

Representative Town Meeting member Dick Lowenstein, District 5, who attended the unsealing of the bids Monday, told the Westport News that bids on the project range from approximately $20,000 to about $100,000.

The proposed security study would assess potential internal and external threats, security infrastructure and procedures and determine how school officials can work with law-enforcement officials and other local agencies to ensure the implementation of security "apparatuses" in schools and the community to deal with threats.

The security review's recommendations and findings will be presented to the Board of Education and police. School district representatives and police will also meet with the firm that conducts the audit to review draft security reports for each school and a draft district-wide security assessment report. A final security assessment report will then be submitted to the school board at a closed-door "executive session," according to the RFP.

"We'll be spending the next several weeks doing an analysis internally, and, as soon as possible, bring that to the board for a decision as far as how to proceed," Elaine Whitney, the school board's chairwoman, said Monday of the bid-review process.

That assessment will involve Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon, as well as members of the town's school security task force, which includes police and fire officials.

The board plans to seek RTM funding approval for the audit in May or June, Whitney added.

Earlier this year, the education and finance boards approved a $100,000 appropriation for an audit conducted by Kroll, a Manhattan-based security consulting firm. But education officials then faced criticism from a number of RTM members for not soliciting other bids. The proposed $100,000 appropriation for the study failed to gain majority support from the RTM's Finance, Public Protection and Education committees at a joint Feb. 28 meeting.

In a move to address RTM members' concerns, the school board on March 5 withdrew its requested allocation for the Kroll study. Whitney announced in an email to RTM members that the board would instead put the security review out to bid.

Several RTM members said they were satisfied with the number of bids received by the district.

"I'm pleased that there were so many responses," said Lowenstein, a member of the RTM's Public Protection Committee. "The fact that we had 12 responses is encouraging."

Melissa Kane, District 3, a member of the Education Committee, had a similar reaction.

"We were trying to open up the process, so we could get the best firm," she said. "I'm encouraged that we got so many bids."

In addition to the security study, Whitney reported Monday that the district's "safe-school-climate" committees, which focus on the quality of campus life, will expand their membership to include Westport police. Those committees will then develop interim action plans for security measures that can be taken before the audit is completed, Whitney said.

She also announced that a broader "townwide school security committee" is set to be formed, with a focus on potential recommendations that may emerge from the audit for capital improvements at the schools. That panel will include education officials, school security task force members, representatives from the RTM, Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen, as well as "selected members of the community with expertise in this area," Whitney added.; 203-255-4561, ext. 118;