How do you put a price tag on keeping children safe when they are at school?

In the abstract, you can't -- certainly not in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. But in the real world, the town of Westport will have to come up with a dollar figure because any security improvements would come with a bill.

We need security systems and protocols that would measurably reduce the possibility that a lone gunman could shoot out a piece of glass, stride into a Westport school and begin killing innocents.

The first step in that process is to have top security experts go through our schools methodically to assess them and recommend specific plans, equipment and protocols for each building.

School Superintendent Eliott Landon has identified one of the nation's elite security firms to conduct that study and is asking for $100,000 to pay for it. Given the world-class credentials Kroll Advisory Solutions would bring to the task, that sum seems reasonable.

In a classic case of the left hand not telling the right hand what it was up to, however, school officials failed to bring the town's top public-safety officials into its discussions. So the expertise Westport's police and fire chiefs could have brought to the table in assessing security firms was not tapped.

That has rightfully irked some members of the Board of Finance -- which put off a vote on the appropriation until Feb. 13 -- and likely public-safety officials.

Meanwhile some RTM members are looking for ways to do the assessment on the cheap, and that is as puzzling as it is troubling.

Kroll has consulted on security measures for Federal Reserve banks and federal courthouses. It has tackled problems in Iraq and Afghanistan. It does investigations for more than one-third of the Fortune 500 companies, according to its website.

Kroll has proposed spending three full days examining Staples High School alone; two days at each of the town's seven other schools. It would include local police and fire officials and school personnel in those examinations -- tapping into local expertise.

When the proposal was reviewed last week by three RTM committees, some RTM members balked at the cost -- one member even suggesting the town could do the review itself using public-safety personnel and school staff.

Really? The old adage is "You get what you pay for." And when you pay nothing ...

The town is fortunate to have highly qualified and dedicated public-safety officials, including the chiefs of the police and fire departments. They should have been included in evaluating security firms.

But while they may be expert at response and containment of crises and at investigations, they lack the specific experience and particularly technical expertise of top-flight security specialists.

But by all accounts, Kroll is an industry leader, and the assessment would be a one-time cost.

If faced with a life-threatening medical condition that required immediate and highly delicate surgery, most RTM members, we surmise, would want the very best available surgeon. Why not put the assessment of our kids' safety in the most highly accomplished hands available?

The assessment, of course, would be only part of the cost. Any structural changes to buildings, if recommended, or new equipment or new security staff would carry additional costs.

Is $100,000 a lot of money?

It amounts to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the $104.2 million school budget the Board of Education approved this week.

For eight schools, the Kroll assessment works out to $12,500 per school.

Twenty first graders died at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We're confident that each of their parents would pay $12,500 in an instant to have their child back.

Westport simply can't afford to scrimp on this.