The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra has released a new contract offer that it will make to musicians on Monday. In a summary, Dobson West, president of the orchestra, describes the proposal as a "significant stretch for the Society and its donors."

The offer boosts minimum salaries from the previous proposal, reduces the size of the permanent orchestra and creates a special retirement program for musicians 55 and older.

"This proposal addresses many of the concerns expressed by our musicians with our initial proposal while still achieving the necessary goal of reducing the cost of the contract," said a statement from management.

The proposal assumes the same number of concerts that are performed now and "in order to accomplish this result, our proposal includes contracting with musicians for 36 weeks." This is significant because the previous proposal guaranteed only 15 to 20 weeks of work for the musicians, prompting some outsiders to criticize the SPCO for creating a part-time orchestra.

The wage proposal would create two tiers of guaranteed annual minimum salaries -- $62,500 for current musicians, and $50,000 for new players. The higher figure compares to a current guarantee of $73,732 -- in other words a reduction of about 15 percent.

The size of the orchestra would shrink under management's offer, to "approximately 28 musicians" from 34. There are currently three vacancies in the orchestra, and two musicians are on leaves of absence.

The proposal includes an enhanced severance of $100,000, compared to the current level of $50,000. The retirement program would seem to be another means of reducing the size of the ensemble. Any musician at least 55 years old by June 30, 2013, would be able to leave with a package based on years of service and salary. The top benefit would be $200,000, payable over three years.

Carole Mason Smith, who heads the musicians' bargaining committee, declined to comment on the offer on Friday.

"We'll have to go over this with our attorney," Smith said. "There's a lot to discuss here."

The two sides are scheduled to talk on Monday and Tuesday.

Management has said that it is seeking in the neighborhood of $1.5 million in savings from a new labor contract.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299