In Randallstown, a white couple likes the area but feels compelled to move because a son must attend schools that are 70 to 86 percent black.
A few miles away, a black professional regrets the departure of his white neighbors but insists the community will remain a fine place to raise a family.
Farther east in the Liberty Road corridor, a middle-school principal defends the quality of his educational program and wishes that white parents would stop packing and start listening.
The departure of white families from the Liberty Road section of northwest Baltimore County is the flip side of the Census picture that shows the area as the most popular suburban destination for blacks.
From 1980 to 1990, the racial composition of the corridor changed dramatically. In the eastern portion, known as the Lochearn regional planning district, the white share dropped from 59 percent of 50,000 residents to 36 percent of 52,000 residents.
The western part of the corridor, the Randallstown planning district, also experienced a huge influx of blacks, and the white population declined from 81 percent of 24,000 residents in 1980 to 62 percent of 26,000 residents in 1990.
What's behind the shift? Is it a case of so-called white flight?
One person who thinks so is Dunbar Brooks, the only black member of the county school board and a population expert with the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments.
"White flight has taken hold in [northwest] Baltimore County," says Brooks, who believes that once a school becomes 35 percent black, racial change occurs swiftly and irreversibly in the school and then the neighborhood.
According to interviews with two dozen community leaders, county planners, educators and residents, several demographic forces are changing the Liberty Road corridor, which extends from the city line to Carroll County:
* Housing demand among blacks. For them, the area represents the good life: affordable homes, integrated neighborhoods and good education.
* White sensitivity to racial balance in the public schools. White families feel comfortable in an integrated neighborhood but get worried when their child's school becomes predominantly black.
These concerns have escalated because corridor schools have shifted faster than the population as a whole. For example, in 1980 Milford Mill High School was about 50 percent black. A decade later it was 86 percent black.
* The lure of new housing developments elsewhere. Many whites, including older couples unaffected by racial change in the schools, have left the corridor to take advantage of wider choices and faster housing appreciation in Owings Mills.
Some white families are going against the trend and moving into the Liberty Road area. They, too, like the good housing values and integrated neighborhoods, and they hope the corridor will stabilize.
Unlike many whites, blacks generally don't believe that school quality hinges on racial balance. And there is a feeling that some whites panic and move away at the slightest sign of school decline -- real or imagined.
"People in the community are too ready to seize on any negative rumor," says Carl Jackson, principal of Old Court Middle School.
Moreover, blacks say they aren't distressed when white families leave. An integrated neighborhood is preferable, blacks say, but a one-race neighborhood can still be a fine one.
NO RACIAL STAMPEDE
The departure of whites from the Liberty Road corridor has been more of a melting-away process than a purely racial stampede accompanied by overt hostility.
Whites who leave often say, with a trace of bitterness, that they're being driven out by the situation in the schools.
To one white father, who did not want his name used, it's Forest Park all over again -- and he hates the situation. His parents moved to the suburbs from that northwest Baltimore neighborhood a generation ago, when it changed from all white to all black.
Now his oldest son is a year from attending Old Court Middle School, where the student body is 70 percent black, and the boy later would go to Milford Mill High School, which is 86 percent black.
The family is moving. Their Randallstown home is for sale.
The mother wishes the school racial balance were more even, say 50-50. Then she'd be happy to stay. Her husband says, "I just can't see a scenario where I have to have my kid in a school that's 90 percent black when the county is 11 percent black."
The school situation aside, the couple say they have been very happy in Randallstown for the past 13 years.
Their well-kept home, featuring $26,000 worth of recent kitchen remodeling, is on the market for $94,500 -- roughly half the cost of new detached homes in Owings Mills and Reisterstown.
The couple's feelings are echoed by another mother, who left Randallstown four years ago because of changes in the schools her two children would attend.