A decision by the school board of the Wyandanch, N.Y., Union Free School District to buy computers for its seven members has set off the latest outbreak of a controversy that has smoldered in the school field for years.

Before they spend any money on themselves, critics of the Long Island school board insist, the board members should ensure that all students have access to new technology and the internet.

The Wyandanch board members–saying they need the computers to better communicate with one another and the district–voted 5-0 to approve a $72,000 purchase of 30 computers, seven for the board and 23 for administrators. One board member abstained from the vote and another was absent.

Wyandanch is not alone. An increasing number of districts are providing computers to their board members, who struggle to wade through stacks of paper each week. But residents upset by the board’s decision say Wyandanch and other low-income districts are different because they can barely afford computers for their students, let alone board members.

According to Superintendent James Lorthridge, the district has about 175 computers for student use, but many are outdated or inoperable–and none has internet access.

Board president Sabir Manteen defended the purchase, saying he works at least 10 hours per week on board business, in addition to meetings.

“We are running a $33 million enterprise,” he told Newsday. “To say that the chair or board members should not have the means to operate this institution is ludicrous.”

Manteen and other board members said the purchase is part of a plan to computerize the district, which began last year with the rewiring of school buildings. The rewiring, scheduled for completion in March, will give all schools access to the internet. An additional 90 new computers will be installed in the schools’ computer labs, although the machines have not yet been ordered.

“This is not a perk,” said Steve Witt, president of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association. “Just because Wyandanch is poor, does that mean that their school board members, who have to perform the same task as rich districts, should not have the tools to perform [them]?”

But board member Henry Bacon has sided with parents in the dispute. Bacon abstained from the vote and will offer his computer to the high school guidance department for student use.

“We have seven hard-working board members and they should be computer literate,” he told Newsday. “But I would like our kids to get any new computers first, so I cannot and will not support this. . . . Children should be the top priority.”